Monday, February 15, 2010

Where Have All the Bloggers Gone?

Posted By on Mon, Feb 15, 2010 at 5:38 PM

Once again, this weekend showed us the Post-Gazette paradox. On the one hand, the paper's business side demonstrates an embrace of new technology, a willingness to bank its future online. On the other hand, its editorial page is still making jokes at the expense of bloggers:

14 percent of online teens now say they blog, down from 28 percent in 2006 ... In the meantime, adults online are blogging at the same steady rate (roughly 1-in-10 maintain a personal online journal or blog).

... These findings beg a question: If their writers are more likely to be older, why aren't their musings characterized by more maturity?

Hahaha! That was a good one, Post-Gazette. And it's definitely true: Blogs lack the worldly sophistication of, say, this recent column by Samantha Bennett, which coined the word "entsuckening." Oooh! Or how about this effort by Jack Kelly: "Globull Warming." See, the headline writers noted that the second syllable of "global" sounds like "bull" ... and by an amazing coincidence, that's just what Jack Kelly thinks of a climatological phenomenon generally accepted by the vast consensus of scientists.  

Such Joycean wordplay! That is some gravitas right there!

And God knows the Post-Gazette is too grown up to ever shamelessly lift material they found on one of those immature blogs -- uh, never mind.

But let's acknowledge that, like the blind squirrel that stumbles on an acorn, the P-G editorial does stumble on an interesting trend -- blogs may be waning in terms of their significance. (At least among younger users, who are the "early adopters" at the leading edge of new technology.) The P-G cites a Pew research study, but you actually can see some evidence for the trend just by looking around Pittsburgh.  

The Pittsburgh Comet, as we all know, has gone dark, or flamed out, or whatever it is that comets do. And yesterday, Matt Hogue of the Pittsburgh Hoagie shut down as well.

Hogue is doing fine, I want you to know. He tells me he will soon be starting a job in the office of city councilor Bruce Kraus, where Hogue hopes to be working on constituent service. 

Hogue had been posting less frequently lately, and didn't exactly seem overwhelmed by sorrow that the Hoagie was shutting down.

"Blogging was great," he tells me, but the new job was a natural time for him to hang it up. There is "no chance that I will return to blogging," he says. "I may log on and check the old scene out every so often, but all of the good blogs seem to be drying up."  

Of course, there's still good stuff online. The 2 Political Junkies are going strong ...  Sue Kerr is still giving headaches to the powers that be ... and Infinonymous still offers up a welcome dash of virtriol from time to time. There are others out there too. But it IS getting a little quiet out there. 

I actually started worrying about this trend more than a year ago

The mythos of blogging is that it is a "crowdsourced" phenomenon, in which a whole bunch of independent voices at some point swell into a thunderous consent, and drown out the chorus of doubters and hacks. But so far, it hasn't played out that way. Instead, we've ended up with a handful of blogs that a crowd of readers rely on ...

[M]aybe that little itch should be telling us something. If we can't even maintain a decent stable of blogs, it's hard to imagine how anything is going to get done offline either.  Just as you can't run anonymous candidates for office, you can't rely on an online movement to effect real political change.

Is that where we're at? Eh, maybe. But I'm a dour sort, given to worst-case scenarios.

For one thing, it's hard to say blogs can't make a difference in the wake of Virginia Montanez's efforts on behalf of the Haitian orphans. Some of the resulting online activity was a bit of a mixed blessing, in my book. But hey, old media coverage is often a mixed blessing too. there's no question that bloggers and Twitterers brought the BRESMA orphanage to local, and even national attention, much more quickly than would have happened otherwise.  

Anyway, the Hoagie is going to make a difference off-line, hopefully ... instead of posting pictures of blighted playgrounds on his site, he may be able to do something about them. The Comet's Bram Reichbaum was co-hosting a radio program I was a guest on a couple weeks back. And there are rumblings about "forg[ing] ties between mainstream media and social media." Maybe if blogs disappear, it'll be because the bloggers have "won" -- in the sense of gaining more say inside power structures they sought to change. 

Still, it'd help if the Post-Gazette editorial board would get over itself, already. 


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